ST. PETERSBURG — Rays right-hander James Shields was arguably one of the best pitchers in interleague play last season, winning three of four starts and throwing three complete games against National League opponents.
But Shields took the blame for Friday night's 5-3 loss to Atlanta after his two-out walk and his throwing error in the fifth inning sparked a two-run rally that gave the Braves the lead for good.
The loss, in front of 19,689 at Tropicana Field, was the Rays' (24-16) second in a row and fourth in their past five at home, dropping them two games behind first-place Baltimore in the American League East.
"Two-out walks are unacceptable," Shields said. "It's a terrible job by me. That changed the whole game. … I've got to do a better job as a pitcher to bear down and get that out. I'm definitely going to put that loss on me tonight."
The game was tied heading into the fifth, the Rays having battled back from a 2-0 hole. Shields was cruising, too, having retired eight of nine batters in a stretch, including getting the first two outs in the fifth on just five pitches.
But Shields walked Martin Prado on a 3-and-2 pitch, then committed a throwing error trying to pick him off first base. On the next pitch, first baseman Freddie Freeman ripped an RBI double, and then catcher Brian McCann added an RBI single to make it 4-2. The 29-pitch inning cut Shields' night short, too, as he was pulled after the sixth after 115 pitches.
"I thought he was going really, really well," Maddon said of Shields. "That segment of the game is what beat us."
Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, continuing his farewell tour in his final season, did his part, too, hitting a single in the second after a rousing ovation and scoring on a wild pitch by Shields for the game's first run.
But other than Luke Scott, who went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and a sacrifice fly, the Rays couldn't get the big hits when they needed them. Elliot Johnson did collect his third career RBI bunt single to give the Rays their first run, but Tampa Bay stranded six.
"Getting that big hit a little more consistently would be nice," Maddon said. "But we just need to continue to attack."
Atlanta added an insurance run in the seventh, when Prado blasted a solo home run off reliever J.P. Howell.
Maddon knew it'd be tough to come back on the back end of the Braves bullpen, which is among the best in the league. But the Rays could only score two off starter Tommy Hanson, and while Scott added an RBI single off lefty Jonny Venters in the eighth, closer Craig Kimbrel shut Tampa Bay down in the ninth inning.
"You've got to take chances a little bit sooner vs. them with what they have at the end," Maddon said.
Shields, who entered Friday's game with a major-league-leading six wins, picked up his second loss in his past three starts, despite striking out eight.
"He's a guy that if you give him an inch, and he's going to go eight or nine, complete game, for you," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We did a nice job battling against him and were able to score some runs early."